Just Listed: Rare Cultural Artifact in Abington
Thanks to the meticulous care showered on it by the owners who built it in 1962, this unassuming stone split-level offers us a perfectly preserved specimen of cutting-edge middle-class living in the 1960s.
In the summer of 1962:
- Walter Annenberg still owned The Philadelphia Inquirer, but nearly everybody read The Evening Bulletin.
- Center City had five department stores: Gimbels, Lit Brothers, Snellenburg’s, Strawbridge & Clothier and John Wanamaker, though Snellenburg’s would close for good that year.
- Shoppers in the growing northern suburbs could head to downtown Jenkintown to shop at Strawbridge’s or head over to the Fairway to patronize Wanamakers. Lord & Taylor and Bonwit Teller would join these stores three years later.
- Families could ride the Route 6 trolley to enjoy the rides, concerts and attractions at Willow Grove Park amusement park.
- And Mr. and Mrs. E. Walter Karkut, first-generation American-born children of immigrant parents who had settled in working-class Philadelphia neighborhoods and suburbs, achieved one of their dreams when they moved from a smaller house in Glenside to the contemporary stone split-level they had designed and built on Hemlock Circle in Abington.
- The Evening Bulletin has been dead for 37 years, while the Inquirer continues to struggle as it tries to remain profitable and vital in the digital age.
- Center City has one department store: Macy’s, which occupies a remnant of Wanamaker’s grand emporium. Online shopping, big-box stores and off-price outlets now dominate the retail scene.
- The department stores are gone, all of them, but downtown Jenkintown continues to thrive as a hub for entertainment and boutique shopping.
- Neither the Route 6 trolley nor the bus line that succeeded it head to the shopping mall that sits on the site of Willow Grove Park. Two other SEPTA bus routes do, however.
- And the house the Karkuts built looks exactly the way it did when they moved into it in 1962. As the matriarch now lives in Florida, she and her children have decided that it’s time to sell this rare time capsule.
Daughter Cristina Mills, a business development manager at Office Depot, explained that her parents were very particular about the kind of house they wanted.
“Dad didn’t want the house to be overly ostentatious,” she says. “He drew up the blueprints, and while he didn’t want it to be too small, he didn’t want it to be too large either.”
And as the couple had four growing girls — Cristina, the youngest, was two years old when they moved to Abington, and the oldest was 15 — they knew they needed enough room to accommodate their interests and their kids’ activities.
Not to mention their morning routine. “When he designed the bathrooms, he made sure the one we shared on the bedroom floor had two sinks,” Mills recalls. Double vanities were not that common at the time; today, they’re ubiquitous, especially in master bathrooms.
Something else that wasn’t that common then was the kitchen/family room combo that spanned the rear of the main floor. While floorplans were evolving to reflect the changed role of the middle-class woman at home, a space like this was still so novel that The Bulletin sent a reporter for its “Women Today” section to write about it in 1965.
That space today has been altered not one whit from its appearance in 1965. Even the appliances in the kitchen are the originals. (Bet you didn’t think a Sub-Zero refrigerator could hold up that long!)
In fact, this kitchen is in some ways still a step ahead of its contemporaries today: the shelves in its cabinets slide out so one can access items in the back easily, and it has a warming drawer, an item found only in top-of-the-line kitchens today. (But it lacks a microwave oven.)
So how did the Karkuts manage to keep this house looking like new for 57 years? Industrious parents who were willing to put in the time and effort, Mills says.
“Dad was handy with the odd jobs,” she explains. He had a workshop in the basement and constantly added to his collection of tools, taking Mills in tow to Sears on weekends to help him acquire more. He built the workshop cabinets and also would climb up onto the roof to clear out the gutters and inspect the slate shingles.
But it was Mom who did the real heavy lifting. She had everything planned: “Tuesday was for running errands,” says Mills. “Wednesday she would change the sheets and clean the bedrooms upstairs. Thursday was downstairs day, when she would clean the kitchen and the common rooms. Friday was the bathrooms. And that brought her around to Monday, when she would do the laundry and the ironing.”
It also helped that the Karkuts used durable, high-quality materials in building the house. “It was about using the right materials,” says Mills, who added that — wait for it — they don’t build ’em like this today.
The end result of all this effort and attention is a true museum piece of a house, capturing perfectly a unique, and uniquely American, moment in time. That time was the early Sixties, when Americans flocked to new houses with the latest gadgets and labor-saving devices in the burgeoning suburbs, where they could find houses that exuded contemporary good taste and simple elegance.
“It was a good time to be growing up,” Mills says.
Yes, it was. Yes indeed.
THE FINE PRINT
BATHS: 2 full, 2 half
SQUARE FEET: 3,429
SALE PRICE: $475,000
OTHER STUFF: The sellers should seriously consider offering this house to the Smithsonian Institution, or maybe the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The midcentury moment has definitely arrived, and few houses still standing capture the way many middle-class Americans experienced it as well as this one does.
1863 Hemlock Circle, Abington, Pa. 19001 [Rachel Reilly | Elfant Wissahickon Realtors]